When I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Monday, it was so full that the area had to be blocked off for a time to prevent overcrowding. Imagine, going all the way to Orlando, only to be barred from the place you’d gone to see.
Fortunately for us, our family arrived early enough to walk right in, and more than taking any of the rides, I liked just standing in Hogsmeade Village, looking up at the peaked roofs of the shops with their snow and crooked chimneys, feeling like I was really in another land. I’m a sucker for such a place. Steam came from the stack of the Hogwarts Express engine. Colored jars lined the windows of the candy shop, and the foam on the butterbeer stuck to my upper lip like marshmallow butterscotch. Goodwill rose within me. My family bumped into each other happily and spontaneously reached to hold hands.
I relished everything about being there, and as I did, I loved to think it all derived from one woman’s imagination. It was just so cool we all got to see and taste what she originally envisioned. How wonderful it must have been for Rowling, going there in her own mind the first time. I can’t help thinking, no matter how delightful it all is for us, that Rowling had even more fun herself, writing the books.
I remember three years ago going to Disney World with my then 13-year-old son, and wondering why we pay other people to tell us to dream, to wish on stars. It’s sort of embarrassing to dream, actually. I never tell people what I’m dreaming because I’m pretty sure they’ll laugh at me; or worse, I might jinx my luck.
But Monday wasn’t about dreaming. Hogsmeade was about imagining, which is a much more powerful thing. Unlike dreaming, where we wish for unearned gifts, imagining is in our own control. The act itself is the gift. “Come play in your own mind,” those crooked chimneys said to me. Don’t worry that such chimneys can’t be built, or that they have nothing to do with real life, or that no one else will come play, too.
There is something selfishly gorgeous in simply disappearing into an imagined world, whether it’s Hogsmeade Village for a day or the new novel I’m writing over months or Ship Breaker which I’m reading now, but I like to remember, too, that Rowling has said we should use our imaginations to imagine what it is like to be other people and to empathize with them (Harvard Commencement 2008). I like to think when we’re caring for characters, we’re practicing caring for real people, too, and that once we leave the park, we’re a little kinder and better than when we went in.